The Definition of Leadership: Jackie Donnelly is not afraid to take matters into her own hands, and that is part of what makes her the amazing leader that she is

A leader is someone who leads, and Merriam-Webster defines leading as “[directing] on a course or in a direction.” Essentially, leadership is all about giving people a sense of direction and helping guide them in the way they should go.

And according to LeadingAge PA, there is one person who did this in the nonprofit senior care sector more than anyone else this year.

That person? Waverly Heights Director of Nursing Jackie Donnelly.

When Donnelly started her nursing career at Waverly Heights over 25 years ago, little did she know that she would be in the position she is in today. However, anyone who got to know her over the years quickly began to realize that she could climb to heights not many people do.

And she has done so with excellence. Donnelly leads by example and always puts her best foot forward, and because of her leadership abilities she is the LeadingAge PA 2023 Leader of the Year.

“It is difficult to imagine a Waverly Heights without Jackie Donnelly,” The Waverly Heights Team agreed. “Jackie began her nursing career at Waverly Heights in 1997 and has been an integral part of the community ever since. Over her 25-plus years with the organization, Jackie has progressed from floor nurse to supervisor, then RNAC and ADON, and finally to her current role as Director of Nursing for all levels of care within the community.”

Donnelly climbed her way up the ladder by putting her residents and coworkers first and herself last.

Her residents and coworkers alike speak very highly of Donnelly, and that is because she has worked hard to get to where she is at today. She treats people well and is very well-versed in the field of nursing.

“Jackie has all the accomplishments that many great Directors of Nursing have achieved: a consistent five-star rating on the CMS reports; excellent deficiency-free survey results and solid quality measures,” Thomas P. Garvin, the president & CEO of Waverly Heights, said. “But what makes Jackie truly special is the way she quietly, confidently and genuinely cares for people. Residents, employees, vendors and outside community members all recognize the difference Jackie’s actions have made in their lives.”

Donnelly has achieved a lot of great things in her over quarter of a century as a nurse. But these achievements and five-star ratings are moot compared to the true impact she makes in and around her community.

While every day she comes in, puts her head down and gets to work, Donnelly is focused on giving her residents the best and most proper care possible. She is not power hungry in her position, but instead uses her position as a nursing director to help ensure Waverly Heights is top-notch in patient care.

At the same time, she is not afraid to help out her fellow employees and coworkers. If they have questions or concerns, they can approach her and not be afraid to ask her tough questions.

“Jackie leads by example,” Waverly Heights Assistant Director of Nursing Theresa T. Mscisz said. “She has never been opposed to rolling up her sleeves and assisting in care if the need arises. We all know that during the height of the pandemic there was definitely a need! Jackie was right out there testing, vaccinating and monitoring our residents and staff in order to keep COVID out of our facility and away from our residents and staff.”

Throughout the pandemic in particular, Donnelly went above and beyond. She volunteered a lot of time over the weekends to get out in the community to give people vaccines. From going to outreach clinics to day cares and high schools, she did what she believed was vital to helping not only save lives in her local community, but also to help keep her residents protected at Waverly Heights.

According to the community’s website, “The Mission of Waverly Heights is to provide seniors an exceptional lifestyle within a compassionate and respectful community,” and with Donnelly at the helm in the nursing department, you know their missions are aligned.

“Jackie has an uncanny ability to keep the vision of Waverly alive, keeping the staff motivated and engaged in the Waverly mission and vision,” Mscisz stated. “This has not been an easy task as we have navigated through the uncertain, frightening and darker days of the pandemic.”

The past couple years in particular have been unpredictable and unprecedented, especially in senior communities. However, it makes it a whole lot easier to get through tough times when you have a leader who is as strong and as mission oriented as Donnelly is.

Donnelly will always be a force to be reckoned with, as she makes such a huge impact every step of the way. She stands up and fights for her residents and makes many of them feel better just by entering the room.

“Her ever-present confident and calming approach was invaluable as we maneuvered through the uncharted territory of the last few years,” Garvin said. “She was the educated voice of reason; the one we relied upon; the one who saved lives not only with her decisions, but with her actions. True leaders show their strength when a crisis happens.”

Waverly Heights got through the worst of times throughout the pandemic in big part because of Donnelly, and they know they can get through anything with her as the director of nursing. There are better times ahead for Waverly Heights, not just because of a post-pandemic future, but because of Donnelly. She is a true leader by example, and Waverly Heights will always appreciate her.


The Definition of Leadership: Jackie Donnelly

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